Category Archives: Uncategorized

Lead Above Mediocre Thinking

Just about my favorite topic to talk about is Better Thinking. The tough part about presenting on the topic is that I at least find it hard to be concise, precise, and accessible about thinking. If you’re lucky you can hit two of those attributes, but not all three.

I made a presentation this summer at Chicago Camps, an organization that puts together mean little conferences around topics such as design thinking and innovation. (Mean as in nifty.) I’ve loaded the slides onto SlideShare and incorporated my speaker notes–which makes for inelegant-looking slides but more information. You can check them out here.

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Rebels in Government!

img_1177Just a quick note that I’ve shared my Dos and Don’ts for civil servants during these difficult times over at Rebels at Work.

The Glass Edge: First 8 Weeks

I had meant to do more frequent updates on my experiences with #GoogleGlass, but my plans to download regularly pictures and videos from a vacation to southern Africa in August were compromised when the Chromebook I brought along failed to talk nicely to #GoogleGlass. In fact, the Chromebook and Glass were not on speaking terms at all. Admittedly, my Chromebook is one of the less expensive models but still I was befuddled by the Chrome operating system’s failure to recognize a cousin of sorts. Oh well…

Google definitely has established worldwide buzz for Glass. My favorite encounter was in Kasane, Botswana.Image When I landed at the little-more-than-an-airstrip, a German national approached me cautiously. “Is that Google….Glass?” but his expression said this is the last place in the world I expected to see one. In return for getting his selfie with Glass, I asked him my standard two questions. You can see his answers here.

I asked everyone who tried Glass the same two questions. I always got the same answers. But far from a scientific sample. (Apologies for the poor audio quality.)

My friend in Botswana:

My Israeli friend working in South Africa.

I liked using Glass best to take videos in places where it was otherwise awkward to take a video. Like at Sunday mass in Regina Mundi, the legendary Catholic church in Soweto. We attended the mass where the congregation sang all the prayers…in Zulu. It lasted two and a half hours, at least half of it in song. I don’t know any more details about the special group of women dressed in purple accompanying the Presentation of the Gifts, but they were truly beyond awesome. (The framing of this video leaves much to be desired I know. Some of it is me; some the limitations of #GoogleGlass.)

On my last day in South Africa, my friend Nate took my mom to Alexandra township near Johannesburg, once a hot spot and no-go area of Johannesburg. He’s working there to introduce mobile banking. Many South African blacks spend hours in line just to send money to relatives and pay bills. They can’t use regular banks because of the fee structure.

Here’s a video of us driving through Alexandra.

South Africa remains one of the most complicated countries in the world. But it’s important to see it clearly for what it is. From there we can proceed.

RecoveringFed is a #GlassExplorer

Friday I was in NYC to pick up my Google Glass at the Glass Basecamp. Google did a good job making it fun; the mimosas helped for sure! I chose the tangerine color. I talked to people who advised choosing a color that blended in, but thinking to myself that “blending in” while wearing Glass was not an option, I opted for “Standing Out”.005

Glass Basecamp is a loft/warehouse space in Chelsea Market. Not too many people were there at one time so it had a comfortable feel. My Glass Guide, Kirsten (sp?) said she handled 2-3 people a day.

She reviewed all the essential starting out and survival skills for Glass, but of course within an hour after leaving I had forgotten most of them. I’m beginning to consolidate my skills now on my third day.

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My impressions in less than 48 hours:

  • Still buggy and/or I’m still on a learning curve. Almost all of the control over the device is through voice commands and swiping across the touchpad (the right spectacle arm) with your finger. Both of these are sensitive and sometimes even crotchety.
  • I think #GoogleGlass has a much broader range of uses than I imagined.
  • Very few people know what the heck you’re wearing so they leave you alone. The ones who do recognize Glass are eager to know what you think about them.

I asked a friend of mine to tell me what it was like to talk to me while I was wearing Glass.

I intend to use RecoveringFed to document my #Glass adventures. My Glass Guide asked me what my tweet had been to qualify and I told her, a little more than slightly embarrassed, that my tweet had been very kumbaya. To which she charmingly said that the world would be a better place if more of us were kumbaya. So here is how I intend to use Glass going forward:

#ifihadglass I would help us see a future full of potential, joy, trust, and the New Wisdom we can find together when we look more clearly.

Kumbaya to the Max!! (As an inveterate editor, I would now change that “look” to see. It is more grammatically correct.)

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(PS: I know I haven’t posted to RecoveringFed in almost 2 months. But I have been posting elsewhere. Check out my essay over on Deloitte University Press on why Decisionmaking is Overrated . If you have a comment, or better yet, disagree with me, please do post a comment. We can really only reach clarity when we embrace disagreement. And of course check out RebelsatWork.com where Lois Kelly and I post pretty frequently.)

Rules I Try to Live By

So the idea for this post began last week when a GovLab fellow was telling me that he thought he was finally figuring me out. (GovLab is a leadership development/innovation program I work with at Deloitte Consulting; actually I think of myself as the GovLab Yoda. I was of course interested in anyone willing to talk about me for an extended period of time. Bring it on!) And he said that a phrase he associates with me now is “And another way to look at this is…” This pleased me as I pride myself on being a contrarian thinker–a natural rebel trait. (I was going to edit out the word thinker and just say contrarian but I actually believe there is a difference between a contrarian and a contrarian thinker. A contrarian will say NO to many things; a contrarian thinker just wants to always examine the other side before coming to a conclusion–if indeed a conclusion is appropriate.) (I can tell already this post will contain many parenthetical statements.)

Anyhoo, I said, “Well Yes. I think that’s right. But another thing I’m trying to impart is that…”

1. Nothing is insignificant. My 32-year career as an intelligence analyst taught me, at least, that anything and everything can matter. In the early 1990s I read a book called Complexity by Mitchell Waldrop, which pretty much changed my intellectual life forever. complexity(If indeed it can be said that I have an intellectual life.) The book is an easily-digestible introduction to the principles of Complexity science. What it taught me is that big changes can be started by little things and ever since then I have thought of myself as an Analyst of Little Things.

2. You never run out of bullets. While we’re on lessons drawn from my analyst career, this phrase was told to me by a manager early on in my apprenticeship. He was recounting some work he had done as a young analyst on an insurgent or guerrilla group somewhere in the world. He had figured out, literally, how many bullets this particular group had, how many bullets they used per day, and therefore thought he knew exactly the date when the guerrillas would run out of bullets. My boss’s manager had saved him from this rookie mistake with the sage advice that “You never run out of bullets.” I.E. something will happen, some contingency will occur, that will upend your careful projection. As you can tell I never forgot that piece of advice. A more general and perhaps useful way of rephrasing it is: Linear Projections Ain’t So.

3. Everything stays the same…Until it changes. The last of my analysis-related rules. Change is a slippery rascal. It taunts you with false hope. (Or endless anxiety if you fear the change.) And then, many times when you’re least expecting, it pounces on you like a cat.  (All blog posts benefit from a Cat Gif)

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The world is just chock-full of rulers, practices, conventions, assumptions long past their Best By Dates. (It was even worse 30 years ago I think.) Estimating when the change will occur is pretty much a loser’s game. Even guessing correctly just once will mark you as a genius forever.

This rule also draws upon elements of complexity thinking. Everything looks like it’s staying the same because the change energy is brewing underneath the status quo line. Up until the moment it breaks through, you probably won’t be aware of the change. It’s not unlike how little earthquakes presage huge volcanic eruptions.

Being able to anticipate the imminence of big change is the ultimate test of any analyst, I think. As I said prediction is difficult, but understanding what is brewing below the status quo line should be the goal of every analyst. Always unpack claims that any kind of analysis is right 90% of the time. How much of that number is accounted for by correct predictions of continued stability?

4. The ends never justify the means because rarely do human projects reach their ends. So LIVE your Means. I don’t think this needs much explanation really. Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans. Live your principles…all..the…time. 

5. The best thing God made is one day after the other. My grandmother used to say this. My grandmother’s name was Obdulia, but she was better known as Doña Yuya. (A friend of mine enjoyed that name so much that she called her car that.) As I write about my abuela I realize I never once heard her boast about herself.abuela

6. Try to see the humor in everything. It is particularly important to see the “funny” in things that are making you mad, like bureaucracy, or people who aren’t thinking, or the Internal Revenue Service, or our current political system.  (Come to think of it the American political system has zoomed way past humor and is now making a strong bid for absurd.)

7. Everything has meaning. It’s your problem if you don’t appreciate it.

Be a Good Manager, Not a Bad Novelist

Sometimes I talk to well-meaning folk, even friends, who will say something to me like: “I’m going to host a morale-building session with my team tomorrow night.”  Or maybe you’ve been in a situation where a manager comes up to you and says something like: “I’d like to give you some positive feedback.” Every time I hear phrases like that, they make me twitch. My eyelid clutches.

I know there’s something not quite right when managers say those sorts of things, but what is it exactly? Now I think I know. They’re not actually DOING the action they’re talking about. They’re just TALKING ABOUT the action they should just be doing.

Perhaps that is not crystal clear.

The best example I can think of is the advice I have often heard concerning writing fiction or plays. Let the Action and the Characters convey the meaning. Under no condition should the writer devote several paragraphs to explaining to the reader what the morale of the story is. (Perhaps the only writer who can get away with this is Proust, and that’s debatable.) The morale of the story is revealed implicitly through character and plot and also through the interaction of both with the reader. (I’ve been trying to find good links to people talking about this issue. Haven’t found the perfect one, but this Guardian series on famous writers’ best practices for writing is golden!)

So the next time you want to give someone positive (or negative) feedback, just do it. Don’t “rococo” it with a self-referential prologue. By the way, that’s another reason why self-narration is a bad habit for managers to acquire. As soon as you say something like you’re hosting a morale-building session, you’re shifting the focus away from the team and on to Wonderful You, thank you very much.

So if you’re a manager, pay attention to what you’re saying. Listen to yourself. And if you say silly things that are better left unsaid, Stop Saying Them. Like a very good novel, let your actions and your character speak for themselves.

Calling Republican Candidates

Culled from Headlines:

Mitt calls Newt Zany

Newt calls Romney Liberal

Newt calls himself a Real Politik Wilsonian

Bachman calls Newt Frugal Socialist

Paul Calls Bachman an Idiot

Paul calls Newt an Idiot

Paul calls Perry a Cheerleader

Paul calls Romney Stupid

Paul calls Santorum Stupid

McCain calls Paul Hitler Appeaser

McCain calls Romney Flipflopper

(Putin calls McCain nuts)

Romney calls Himself Middle Class

Huntsman calls Romney Well-Lubricated Weather Vane

Perry calls Romney Fat Cat

Bachman calls Perry Naive

Perry calls Cain Brother

Cain calls Perry Insensitive

Number 18

And so here I am sitting at the San Antonio airport yet again and I’ve observed a new variant. (Check the comments to the previous post for #17!!)

18. I need a good place where I can sit and work on my laptop. Oh look, there’s the bar!! That will do!!

We the People

Four tweets I posted this morning in search of a blog:

“About 500 years after government as social institution achieved full operational mode, the socials themselves are having buyers regret.” It’s not easy to assign a date for when modern government began, but the 17th century, with its scientific revolution, the long reign of Louis XIV, and Europe’s expansion in earnest into the Western Hemisphere seems as likely a spot as any. During that century, you still had strong allegiance to the theological justification for government, divine right of kings and all that rot, but philsophers in the 18th century began to react by asserting some essential human rights.

“Governments, i.e. Functionaries, think themselves separate from and above people and groups. Au contraire Govt is below both, their creation.” It’s hard to resist thinking, if you’re a senior Government official, that you have somehow attained a higher level that the average Jane. (I know. I was one of dem for almost ten years!) And without you even realizing really, you begin to treat laws and regulations as if they are the primary source. WHICH IS LIKE REALLY WRONG!! Laws and regulations are secondary and tertiary sources: the primary source in democratic societies is the will of the people. My time in government taught me there really is no such thing as bureaucracy. Instead, what really happens is that we all become Bureaucrats. Bureaucrats worship false Gods.

Even in dictatorshps, government survives in large part on the consent of the governed. The people find it difficult to generate enough willpower and fortitude to overthrow it. (What we saw in Egypt was an inspiring example of what happens when the people do in fact get their Motivation going.) I don’t mean in any way to criticise individuals or blame the victims. I doubt I could be so courageous. But I’m simply repeating what my priest-professor once said in a Catholic University philosophy class: The only way you can be compelled to do anything is if someone physically picks you up and makes you do it. Otherwise everything is coercion, and the success of coercion always correlates to the strength of the will.

“Social networks, computing power allow individuals, groups 2 redress balance of power btw them & institutions of Govt. Trend will continue.” For much of human history, government, once established–even democratically, began to accrete to itself more and more power, in many cases, particularly with 20th-century authoritarian regimes, creating effective monopolies of power. Today, the balance of power is sliding rather
inelegantly but joyfully away from government and toward the Socials, the people and the groups they form. We are only seeing the start of a dynamic that will affect all institutions, even democratic ones and private businesses, that have allowed their actions to wander away from their popular mandates or customers.

“In a sense Govt laws and regulations are like the terms and agreements u receive when u install new software..cept u really can NOT ACCEPT.” As I wrote these tweets I was reminded of the Terms and Agreements you never can read–I mean really who would have the time and power of concentration?–but nevertheless must default accept to install new software. When we join a group we accept similar terms and agreements, except the ones written down are supplemented by unwritten ones you figure out yourself through trial and error, like playing a giant game of Myst. Demonstrations and popular uprisings are not unlike mass selections of the “I do not accept” and “I do not agree” options. To function better as societies, we need to make the “I do not accept”option much less traumatic–by the way, software developers need to do the same for this step to become meaningful again in software deployment. Government and business engagement in social activities and networks and their willingness to adjust in real time and meaningful ways to feedback are the only ways to ease the trauma of rejection.

Leadership Lessons from Galaxy Quest (Friday Afternoon edge-taker)

Friday afternoon…time to take the edge off the week.

I’ve written before that, as a veteran of many a leadership course–can’t you tell?, I grew quite tired of having to draw leadership lessons from required viewings of war movies. (Henry V is always a favorite here, although to be fair that is one of the more nuanced of the lot.) And I offered up that it would be great fun to work up a leadership seminar based on the movie Galaxy Quest, a sendup of the Star Trek genre. (For those of you who don’t know the movie, well first shame on you, but it features Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub and several others. They play the actors of a Star Trek-like TV series who many years later make their living by attending fan shows. The problem occurs when the group of actors meet up with a distant alien population, the Thermians, who understood the old TV shows to be historic documents. When these pacific people are threatened by a belligerent enemy planet, they build out all the technology exhibited in Galaxy Quest for real but now need the experienced crew, i.e. the actors, to make it all work correctly. Here’s the trailer.) (It looks like the whole movie is currently available on YouTube, cut up into scenes, if you’ve never seen it.)

So the clips available (legally) are limited, but the clip below actually captures one of my favorite leadership moments. Tony Shalhoub, who plays the engineer “Scotty” character–Tech Sgt. Chen, has been asked to help the gentle Thermians with their engineering problems. The Shalhoub character’s only real expertise, however, is eating, but watch how he engages the Thermians with his questions to draw out the answers they don’t know they already have. So here you see the importance, as a leader, of listening, asking the right questions, and encouraging your colleagues to think for themselves. This has the extra benefit of being a scene cut from the movie, so even if you’re a Galaxy Quest fan you haven’t seen this scene before. (You only need to watch the first scene in this clip, but you may enjoy the others. The clip does seem to play slow most times, but usually plays better if you click through to YouTube itself.)

There are many other wonderful lessons in the movie about the importance of being corny and emotional as a leader and about how a group of selfish actors become a selfless team. Unfortunately, I’m not enough of a hacker to isolate the scenes. But maybe some day, when I’m a high-priced consultant and can afford the film rights…

Happy Weekend!!!